THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Three Kenyans appeared at the International Criminal Court Thursday, denying they had any connection with unrest in which 1,200 people were killed after disputed elections in 2007.
Suspended government ministers William Ruto and Henry Kosgey and radio executive Joshua Arap Sang attended the court to hear charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, forcible transfer and persecution.
“We have absolutely no reason to be here. We are innocent people,” Ruto told reporters, after singing the Kenyan national anthem outside the court with other Kenyan politicians.
The ICC has summonsed six top political, government and business officials to appear in court over two days this week in connection with the 2007-08 violence between the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and the Party of National Unity.
The bloodshed badly damaged Kenya’s reputation for stability in a turbulent region.
In the second of the two cases Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is presenting to the world’s first permanent war crimes court, Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura, Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former police chief Hussein Ali are due to appear Friday to hear charges of murder, forcible transfer, rape and persecution.
“It’s about time for the judicial process to begin. The country deserves closure,” Mutula Kilonzo, Kenya’s justice minister said in Nairobi.
“The chickens have come home to roost after politicians foiled the formation of a local tribunal to try the cases.”
Both Ruto and Kosgey said they had not yet been provided with the full details of the alleged crimes.
“I have no guilt, none at all, and it is my belief that this case will show that I have no guilt whatsoever,” Kosgey, speaking in Swahili, told Kenya Television Network (KTN) at The Hague as he left the court.
Sang, who appeared with his arm in a sling after breaking it in an accident last week, declared: “I am an innocent journalist working with KASS International.”
Kenyan television stations beamed the court proceeding live to viewers gathered in homes, offices and public places.
“I want to believe the ICC process will be as fair as possible to both the suspects and the victims of the post-election violence,” Julius Bitok, a university lecturer in Eldoret, epicenter of the initial post-poll attacks, told KTN.
Prior to the hearing, a group of 40 Kenyan members of parliament gathered to protest against the ICC proceedings.
“We are opposed to ICC trials as we feel we are able to handle our cases and this is not right,” said Mohamud Ali, a member of parliament for Moyale in the north of the country.
“The best solution is a local solution,” he said.
The court set a date of April 18 for a status hearing to establish an “adequate calendar of disclosure” and to estimate the number of documents and witnesses the prosecution will use at a confirmation of charges hearing set for September 1.
After the confirmation of charges hearing, judges need to decide whether the suspects should go to trial.
Evidence disclosure has been a thorny issue for the court and its first trial was repeatedly delayed due to concerns for the rights of the accused to have a fair trial.
The Kenyan government has also objected to the ICC proceedings, however, requesting ICC judges to declare both cases inadmissible.
Kenya argues that adoption of the country’s new constitution and other reforms have opened the way for it to conduct its own prosecutions for the post-election violence.
“Promises are not enough,” Moreno-Ocampo told reporters.
“You have to prove there is a national case for the same incidents, the same individuals and the same charges. There is nothing like that in the challenge.”
The prosecutor added that he had feared the challenge would slow down proceedings, but welcomed indications from the judges that they would work “very fast” in coming to a decision.
Judges must decide whether Kenya, rather than the court, has jurisdiction to try the cases but the ongoing judicial proceedings will not be halted until that decision is made.
Additional reporting by James Macharia in Nairobi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller